You may already be earning a good living as an independent consultant, or enjoying the benefits of working for a large practice. You probably have a degree, possibly an MBA or accountancy qualification, and you may belong to several professional bodies. But do you have a qualification in consultancy? Do you need one? Maybe not at the moment, but can you honestly say that there will never be a point in your career when you will need to distinguish yourself from the growing number of people using the term “consultant” as a euphemism for “between jobs”. Changing work patterns mean that most people will call themselves a consultant at some stage in their career and many will have genuine skills to offer their clients. Others will not, and they will bring bona fide consultants into disrepute. In an unregulated profession, clients need some assurance of quality. And for those consultants who take their profession seriously and want the freedom to choose their future employer or clients, independent proof of their competence as a consultant is essential. Established by the International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (ICMCI) as the international benchmark in consulting standards, the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) has been awarded in the UK by the Institute of Management Consultancy (IMC) since 1993. The IMC is now leading international development of the CMC with its updated version of the qualification which is recognised in 30 countries world-wide. There are currently 2,500 CMCs in the UK, and with 11 IMC Certified Practices now assessing their own consultants against the CMC, it is projected that this number will double over the next five years. So how do you assess consultancy skills? The original CMC was based on time served as a consultant and worked to a very narrow definition. The new CMC is competence-based and recognises a broad range of skills and experience. In consultation with the Management Charter Initiative, a set of consultancy standards have been established, to which IMC has added three other sets of indicators for management, a professional specialism and awareness of the social, technological and political issues affecting clients. Each candidate has to provide evidence of their competence in each of these areas by means of a professional record, assignment study and interview. Whilst candidates do not pass or fail the assessment, they may “not yet satisfy” the assessor that they have demonstrated sufficient evidence of competence, in which case they are invited to apply again six months later. The old CMC assessment process has been phased out and candidates are now coming through under the new system. One of the first, David Duffy, has run his own practice, Obsidian Consulting, for 15 years, having moved from general management in the plastics industry. He decided to apply for the CMC qualification after hearing that it had changed from a time-served qualification to a competence-based one. As an NVQ assessor Duffy is a great advocate of this approach and actually found the CMC process easier to follow than that for the NVQ. “I already had most of the material for the professional record as I had taken the company through Investors in People when it was first introduced,” Duffy says. “This meant everyone kept their own professional development records and I found it very easy to cross reference my evidence to the CMC standards, which were well laid out and easy to follow.” Phil Turner had been a consultant for five years and an IMC member for two years when he applied for CMC status under the new system. “I wanted an objective measure of my skill level,” explains Turner. “Whilst I felt confident in my work because I had learnt a lot and had the respect of my colleagues, I needed to test myself in a neutral environment and I wanted the status of the qualification. I also knew that I planned to move overseas at some stage and to work on my own. The CMC would provide an objective measure of my competence.” The consultancy where Turner had been working had a library of work and a project close-down process which meant that there was no shortage of material for his professional record. He also found the cross-referencing straightforward. “This is meat and drink to most consultants. If you are going to be a consultant you need these skills,” he says. When asked what the CMC means to him, Turner’s response is unequivocal: “It has given me self-confidence outside my own practice in terms of management consultant competence.” Naomi Stanford has been an internal consultant at British Airways for the past two years and became a CMC earlier this year. Having begun her career as a teacher, she made the move into the commercial world via a stint at Prudential’s open learning centre and then went on to work for Price Waterhouse for seven years. BA now has a large pool of internal consultants, with 40 specialising in HR alone. “Internal consultants often have to compete with external consultants and in order to be credible they need a professional qualification,” says Stanford. “Ultimately, I would like the group to become an IMC Certified Practice and to help other BA consultants prepare for the CMC. This is part of my plan to professionalise the teams.” Stanford, a qualified assessor, introduced competence-based qualifications and NVQs to Price Waterhouse and is familiar with the approach. She had already compiled a portfolio of evidence for a doctorate in business administration at Henley, and for the assignment study used the first major piece of work that she completed at BA. She is also encouraging colleagues to compile portfolios that can be used for annual appraisals. “Some people struggle with the concept of a portfolio. But once you have grasped this and got into the habit of keeping a record then the CMC process is quite straightforward,” says Stanford. She believes that an internationally recognised qualification is important for BA consultants because many of them are extremely mobile. “When I am selecting consultants, I always ask if they have the CMC and international experience,” she adds. For Stanford, the toughest part of the process was the interview. “I found it to be rather a grilling, which I wasn’t expecting,” she says. “I was also impressed with the code of conduct and ethical guidelines. We all think we know how to act professionally and ethically, but it’s good to be reminded about these things.” And, although she was initially concerned that internal consultants might not be recognised by the IMC, Stanford was pleasantly surprised by the Institute’s inclusive approach. “Internal consultants do not always have the breadth of experience that comes from working with different organisations,” she says, “but working for a large multinational you can get experience of a number of functions in different parts of the world. It’s good to know that internal consultants can be awarded the CMC.” The IMC runs workshops around the country which offer practical help in preparing for the CMC assessment. For more information about IMC membership, the CMC qualification and workshops call 0800 31 80 30 or visit our web site at www.imc.co.uk EXTRACTS FROM THE NEW CMC STANDARDS Consultancy competence: – How you market and sell your consultancy services. – How you scope the intervention. – How you prepare a proposal for a client. – How you assess your own performance during the assignment. Management competence: – How you plan and implement the development of a business. – How you motivate and develop staff. – How you use appropriate techniques to manage financial resources. – How you obtain and plan the use of physical resources. Professional specialism: – A relevant first or higher degree, postgraduate qualification, or – A qualification from a recognised professional institute, or – A portfolio of evidence of experiential learning. Awareness of: – Social issues (e.g. demographic trends, training and development). – Technology (e.g. telecoms, quality initiatives). – Economics (e.g. export/import conditions, business location issues). – Politics (e.g. EU directives, health and safety).